Seasonal Reflections Part 1 of 2: It’s the Most Difficult Time of the Year
In my years of convert counseling and support I’ve noticed that converts can become kind of crabby or depressed around the holiday season, especially in online forums. It’s a time when we can feel the loss of the holidays we used to celebrate, the close connections to family and community that we don’t yet feel we have in Islam and Muslim communities. We may be missing Christmas. We may be experiencing extra stress with our non-Muslim families at this time of year. We may be feeling left out of the community feelings around us.
Many of us miss the fun and community we felt during the Christmas season. Perhaps we haven’t yet found a way to make the Eids match what we used to feel before. We may feel sadness and loss because we feel or have been told that we can no longer participate in any of the seasonal activities we used to enjoy. We are surrounded by things that trigger strong nostalgia- even the grocery stores are decked out for Christmas and playing Christmas music on the radio. We wonder if we are “bad Muslims” because we crave a turkey dinner with all the fixings, want to make pie with our non-Muslim families, or still secretly love Christmas trees.
We may also experience an escalation of difficulties with our families. Grandma wants to know why we’re not going to Mass with her. Mom and Dad won’t have Thanksgiving without wine. The family discusses international politics after dinner and Islamophobic statements are made. Aunt Betty can’t stop asking you why you became a Moz-lehm anyway. Your family just can’t understand why you’re so “distant” right now. And when you do call them or get together with them, the atmosphere is tense.
I believe that many of us may be feeling a lot of stress, sadness, loss and confusion at this time of year and sometimes, deep down, we feel this threatens the foundation of our faith.
(Sometimes, in an effort to make ourselves feel more “solid” we try to prove ourselves to ourselves and others that the path we have chosen is the correct one by forcing ourselves on others on the internet. So on internet forums in particular, I see an increase in “aggressive” posting and haram-policing.)
At this time of year it’s important to talk to each other about how we’re feeling and what we’re going through.
And it’s also important to talk about our assumptions and what we have been told about being The Very Best Muslim. Many of us have been led to believe that in order to be The Very Best Muslim we need to discard everything about ourselves from before Islam including our personalities, lifestyles, jobs, families, and cultures.
The discourse in the Muslim community is still mainly one of “Eastern Muslims” feeling threatened by “Westernizing” globalization and immigrants in the West feeling threatened by the loss of their cultures and the introduction of things that are foreign to them. Their knee-jerk reaction to all things “American” or “Western” is often portrayed to be a religious issue when it often is not. In the meantime, those of us who have converted to Islam are often left feeling that everything about our lives, our personalities, our culture, and our lifestyles must necessarily be un-Islamic.
Many of us, out of our love for Islam and our desire to be The Very Best Muslim, almost completely gut ourselves into empty shells, and squish ourselves into a little cardboard box we call “Islamic lifestyle”. Over time we start to become cramped and depressed. We become exhausted from always being on guard, on the defensive. And for too many of us, often around the 10 year mark, we break. And because we thought that we were doing what we had to do to be that Very Best Muslim (TM), we believe we are bad Muslims because we couldn’t sustain it, and some of us even decide that they can’t be Muslim anymore.
So this holiday season, let’s make sure that we are living in the shelter of each other. Let’s have sensitive and intelligent discussions about our challenges. Let’s refrain from jumping to tell others that something is “haram” or “bad”. Let’s talk about all the ways we can “know ourselves” and gently bring our whole selves to Islam. Let’s support each other in finding ways to be whole, healthy Muslim women who have strong faith, are confident in their knowledge, practice life-giving worship, and engage in active service to the community and the world all with an eye toward gaining the love and pleasure of Allah and His Messenger (S) and those who love them and are loved by them.
Continued in Part 2… “Connection, Companionship, Community, Celebration”